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When Design Gets Political

Almost every speaker at the WDCD conference made references to how political design is.  But what if a designer is working for a political party?  Just how far can they remove themselves from responsibility?

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 01-06-2011

The broad sentiment of the WDCD conference was that designers should play a more activist role in society.  They should be working to make the world a better place with less greed, more sustainable consumption and fairer economic distribution.

Ole Bouman (NAi) stressed that design needs to be more implicated in reality;  Oliviero Toscani said ideas are not enough, it is what you do with them that matters; Rohan Shivkumar wants architects to listen to the underprivileged.

A look around the website of De Designpolitie, the graphic design studio that initiated the conference, reveals that they were in fact the designers behind the VVD election campaign of 2010.

VVD is Holland’s right wing, big business party. Their populist campaign was hugely successful and gave Holland its first conservative prime minister in almost one hundred years.

The question this raises is whether designers ought to make moral judgments when selecting clients.  It is also unclear how designing such a campaign can qualify as activist for grassroots social change.

“We are not VVD voters,” says Richard van der Laken, one of De Designpolitie’s founders, “but it is still a decent political party.  It is not an ultra-right fascist party.  They believe in peace and have the same opinions as Barack Obama.  I really do not see what the problem is.”

The designs for the VVD campaign utilized nationalist overtones.  Posters boasted slogans like "Rule 1: Less Rules," "The Cabinet Has Fallen - Finally the Country Can Get Back on its Feet," "No more Ridiculous Subsidies", and "From Now On For Anyone Who Deserves Punishment: Punishment."   Van der Laken says his studio was responsible for style not content, but the Designpolitie’s website refers to these statements as “Hot topics in Dutch society.” 

Each slogan was underlined in thick orange (the colour of Holland's Royalty) with an "Holland Anew" or "Especially Now" logo at the bottom. 

Holland’s cultural community is now living the reality of this political win.  Funding cuts are underway and at least some of the cultural organizations that worked to entrench all facets of culture into Dutch mentality will cease to exist.  Culture goes a long way to explaining why Holland always sits at or near the top of research into societies that do best at creating happiness and well-being for its citizens, and is why Dutch design became such a global phenomenon in the first place.

“I think we did a great job,” says Van der Laken.  “It was a great campaign style and it worked.  I find these questions very narrow minded … Design is about culture and economics, not about how to get more money from the government.”

WDCD was made possible through the support of various commercial entities as well as Premsela – Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion, NAi, Dutch DFA, Amsterdam Art Fund, The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture – all government funded bodies.




Images: main from the De DesignPoitie website of Prime Minister Mark Rutte with his supporters.  Small from top campaign posters.

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